By Harris Fleming
Pat Frele ’73/M.B.A. ’79 believes in signs — and she received a big one when she met the very first recipient of the James and Rose Frele Scholarship, which she established at Seton Hall in honor of her parents.
“We were talking at dinner, and she said, ‘Oh, I’d love for you to come to my graduation. It’s May 21,’” Frele recalls. She was awestruck, and not just by the young lady’s offer. “May 21 is my parents’ wedding anniversary — talk about a sign!”
Not that Frele needed confirmation that her decision to start the scholarship was the right one. She is quick to credit the University with preparing her for a very successful career on the business side of the medical testing industry.
It was a circuitous route at the beginning, though. Eager to find a teaching job after graduating with a degree in education, Frele grew frustrated by a tight job market in New Jersey school districts in the ’70s. She started working with a temp agency that placed her at Roche Clinical Laboratories (then a unit of pharmaceutical giant Hoffman La Roche). She performed well there and liked the work, so when they offered her a full-time position, she was eager to accept —
which in short order led her right back to Seton Hall to earn her M.B.A. at the company’s expense. Over time, Roche Clinical Laboratories was merged with other lab companies and ultimately became Labcorp, one of the largest medical testing companies inthe country.
Throughout 43 years rising through the Labcorp ranks to become an administrative vice president, Frele never lost a sense of affection and gratitude for what she learned at Seton Hall, both academically and about life. “The whole experience played a very key role in my life. It taught me how to work with people, how to get along with different people,” she says.
While she was an active donor to the University for many years, Frele felt a calling to do more. A conversation with Nora Nasif Rahaim, the University’s senior director for gift planning and principal gift officer, gave her the inspiration to start the scholarship fund named for her mother and father.
“I came from a very middle-class family. Both my parents worked and when I wanted to go to Seton Hall they could have said, ‘We can’t really afford it. Why don’t you go to one of the other smaller schools that cost less?’” she explains. “But they encouraged me and said, ‘If that’s where you want to go, we will support you and give you as much as we can.’ God knows what they sacrificed; I don’t, fully. This is, for me, a way to acknowledge them.”
The scholarship is not only Pat’s acknowledgment of gratitude for her parents’ support, but also a way to ensure that for generations to come, people who never met James and Rose Frele will know their names and associate them with a spirit of generosity and commitment to higher education, regardless of a student’s means.
Rahaim observes that while Seton Hall clearly benefits from the generosity Frele and other alumni demonstrate with their financial support, there are benefits for the donors which may be less obvious. “It’s rewarding to me to align the philanthropic interests of our alumni and friends with the needs of the University, and particularly to see that Pat feels so rewarded by doing this,” Rahaim says. “She just really embodies the true spirit of Seton Hall.”
The words Frele uses to describe her relationship with Seton Hall echo Rahaim’s perception. “This is a reflection of my affection for the University,” she says.
“The fact that in my life and my career I have been so blessed to be able to do this — I want so much to help these students and to honor my parents. It may mean the difference between going to the University or the school of your choice or going versus not going. When you realize how grateful they are, and the impact you’re making on their lives, it is such an affirmation that you are doing the right thing.”
Harris Fleming is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.